Olympic protests allowed in public parks in Beijing
Foreigners and citizens can apply to rally, say officials
Protesters will be allowed to express their grievances in public parks during the Olympics, officials confirmed yesterday.
Foreigners and locals will have to apply for permission to peacefully occupy the secure 'pens', which will be situated in three popular Beijing public parks - Beijing World in Fengtai district, Purple Bamboo in Haidian and Ritan in Chaoyang.
'We have dedicated places for demonstrations at several parks ... in line with past Games practices,' said Liu Shaowu , director of the security department for the Games' organising committee Bocog.
'People have the right to demonstrate under Chinese laws ... The police will safeguard the right to demonstrate as long as protesters have obtained prior approval and are in accordance with the law.'
The South China Morning Post revealed in April that the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and municipal security chiefs had bowed to international persuasion to allow tightly controlled demonstrations in secure areas during the Olympics.
But Mr Liu was unable to give specific details regarding application procedures, nor would he say if any applications had been made. How residents and visitors would be made aware of the new measures was also unknown.
Bocog spokesman Sun Weide said that those wishing to protest would have to contact the Beijing Public Security Bureau for further information.
'I don't know any more details,' he said. 'But it should be normal application procedure for foreigners and Chinese to apply to protest.'
Police on the mainland rarely approve any public protests, and some public rallies are held under heavy police surveillance, with reporters often not allowed to freely interview protesters.
The International Olympic Committee said it had encouraged Beijing to adopt 'best practice'.
'Past organisers - more specifically their relevant city authorities - have found ways to manage any protests, and the Chinese authorities were encouraged to do the same,' IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said.
Zhang Xianling - a member of the group Tiananmen Mothers, which is lobbying for an inquiry into the bloody crackdown in the square in 1989 - said she and other members would not apply to protest in the zones, partly because police approval was 'not very likely'.
'And what is the point of going [to the protest zones]? They are just a showcase for the Olympics to be seen to be allowing human rights,' she said.
Ms Zhang, 71, who lost her 19-year-old son, Wang Nan , in the Tiananmen protests 19 years ago, said the parks were too far from any Olympic venue for protesters 'to make a noise'.
Pressure group Human Rights Watch claimed confining protesters was 'illegitimate and arbitrary' because it put control ahead of the international human right to protest freely and peacefully.
'The obstacles and deterrents are so high as to negate the right to demonstrate,' said Hong Kong-based Nicholas Bequelin. 'We are also concerned about the possibility that the authorities might use the existence of these zones to justify repressive measures against demonstrators outside the zones.'
Matt Whitticase of the Free Tibet Campaign, who was banned from entering Hong Kong during the city's leg of the Olympic torch relay, said the protest zones were a 'mechanism to control protests' rather than to facilitate them.
However, government approval of the zones was viewed as a modest loosening of security efforts, which have brought complaints of a 'no fun' Olympics.
Mr Liu shrugged off claims that the unprecedented security clampdown might ruin the Olympic atmosphere.
The measures include the expelling of migrant workers who have helped prepare the capital for the event, closing entertainment venues and tightening visa rules and transport restrictions.
Social order was paramount, Mr Liu said, but he acknowledged Beijing's 16 million residents would need time to get used 'to seeing such a large police presence'.
He said the public had been mobilised through 'education programmes in Games security' to assist the vast number of official armed and unarmed, uniformed and plain-clothes personnel on duty through the Olympics next month and the Paralympics in September.
Additional reporting by Kristine Kwok